A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 233 Alexei sighed, slowly undressed and piled his clothes on the boulder. He always bathed in this secluded little bay known only to himself, off this sandy spit hidden by the wall of rustling reeds. Unstrapping his artificial feet, he slowly slipped from the boulder, and although it was very painful to step on the shingle with his bare stumps, he did not go down on all fours. Wincing with pain, he entered the lake and plunged into the cold, dense water. He swam some distance from the shore, turned over on his back and lay quite still. He gazed at the blue, limit- less sky. Small clouds were hurrying across it, colliding with each other. He turned over and saw the shore reflect- ed upside down on the cool, blue, smooth surface of the water, and the yellow and white water-lilies amidst their floating round leaves. Suddenly he saw the reflection of Olya sitting on the boulder, Olya, as he had seen her in his dreams, in a printed frock. Her legs, however, were not drawn in, but down, although they did not reach the water—two ugly stums dangled over the surface. He slap- ped the water to drive away this vision. No, the substitu- tion method that Olya had proposed did not help Mm! The situation in the South had become graver than ever. The newspapers had long ceased to report fighting on the Don. One day the communiqu6 of the Soviet In- formation Bureau mentioned the names of Cossack vil- lages on the other side of the Don, on the way to the Volga, to Stalingrad. These names meant little to those who were unfamiliar with these parts, but Alexei, who was born and bred there, realised that the Don defence line had been pierced and that the war had swept to the walls of Stalingrad. Stalingrad! That name had not yet been mentioned in the communiques, but it was on everybody's lips. In the autumn of 1942 it was pronounced with anxiety aad pain; it was uttered not as the name of a city, but of a near and dear one in mortal danger. For Meresyev, this general anxiety was magnified by the fact tfctat Olya was somewhere near there, in the steppe outside fee city, aa^J who could tell what trials she would be subjected to?